As pandemic enters 6th month, COVID-19 case numbers continue downward trend

But the good news was balanced by a warning from Alberta's chief medical officer of health. "The hard truth is that we will likely still be fighting COVID-19 in 2021, so we do need to build good daily habits now."

But, Hinshaw added, 'The hard truth is that we will likely still be fighting COVID-19 in 2021'

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw will provide her latest update on COVID-19 on Thursday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

As Alberta enters the sixth month of a pandemic that has changed almost everything for almost everyone, the province reported two more COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and just 56 new cases of the illness.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in early March, 205 people have died in Alberta.

During that time more than 735,000 tests have been conducted on about 608,000 people. That means about one in seven Albertans have now been tested.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, took time during her Thursday update to thank all the Albertans who have followed public health guidelines and helped slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"Of course, we are not out of the woods yet," Hinshaw said. "The spread of the virus over the coming weeks will depend on the choices we make this weekend and in the days and weeks ahead.

"We are now in the sixth month since this virus was first diagnosed in Alberta. I know it has been a long, tough road."

Exactly two weeks ago, Hinshaw told Albertans some hard truths about where things stood.

With new cases of COVID-19 then rising sharply, Hinhsaw said she was "very concerned" about what the numbers told her, attributing rising numbers in part to "fatigue," the fact that many people seemed to be tired of physical distancing or of following other public health guidelines.

Since that "wake-up call," Calgary and Edmonton, along with many smaller municipalities, have implemented bylaws that make mask wearing mandatory in all indoor public places and in the days before and after the August long weekend, the number of new cases slipped back into double digits.

The downward trend in daily new cases began on Friday, when 97 were reported. Between Saturday and Wednesday, the numbers ranged from a high of 94 to a low of 56.

'We should feel collectively proud'

Hinshaw said the decline in cases didn't happen without a lot of work from a lot of people to change their habits.

The numbers, she stressed, don't mean the pandemic is over. After the first wave peaked in mid-April, she said, the numbers came down and were stable for a few weeks. Then the numbers began to climb again, perhaps because people thought they no longer had to worry about  transmission.

"So the message I would want people to take away is that, again, we should feel collectively proud and take this as an encouragement to continue reinforcing those daily practices in our lives. Because the future and whether we have a big second wave, whether we have a series of small ripples or smaller waves, that really is in our hands. And it's all up to how we interact with each other." 

With so much focus now on a vaccine, Hinshaw said, people may get a false sense of confidence that the end of COVID-19 is around the corner.

"It can make us think that we if we resist changing our personal behaviour for just a few more months that a vaccine will arrive and we won't need to worry about modifying how we act," she said.

"However, we cannot know when or if a highly effective vaccine will be identified. Even then, there is no way to know for sure when a vaccine would be available to Albertans."

Get ready for the long haul

One of the unknowns is how many doses it will take to people's immune systems to develop sufficient antibodies, she said.

"The hard truth is that we will likely still be fighting COVID-19 in 2021, so we do need to build good daily habits now," she said. 

"If you don't have a mask, please get one. If you haven't instructed your kids on how to wear masks safely, take time to do that this weekend. If going out to eat, shop or be in close contact with others, make sure you're feeling well. Wash your hands, carry hand sanitizer and carry all the guidance that we've put out."

One of the deaths reported on Thursday was a resident of the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre in Edmonton.

The centre was reporting 25 deaths and one new case as of Thursday, according to the latest update on its website. There have now been 113 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff since mid-June.

The Edmonton care centre, located at 4225 107th St., has the deadliest outbreak in Alberta.

As of Thursday, there were 36 active cases among residents and 20 among staff.

Twenty residents and 12 employees have recovered from the illness.

On Thursday, there were 1,107 active cases in the province. There are 76 people in hospital, including 19 in ICU beds.

The active-case breakdown by region was:
Calgary zone: 392 cases.
Edmonton zone: 325 cases.
Central zone: 186 cases
North zone: 107 cases.
South zone: 92 cases.
Unknown: 5 cases.